Look out across the vast tundra that is the automotive landscape. There exists many different beasts. Some runamill, legion across the environment. Others, more rare, more special. What used to be the bastion of the hunter, the tracker – examples few and far between – has now become a veritable herd.
What am I referring to with Attenborough-esque aplomb? The limited run. The anniversary model. The special edition. They take many forms, with many a different title. Some are questionable, but here we have a release that I can get behind for myriad reasons.
A one-off Bentley Continental Azure styled around the heritage R-Type Continental Fastback, celebrating its 70th anniversary and adorned with the plate, JAS 949. Bentley is a formidable force nowadays, breaking into 2023 with perhaps what is their strongest-ever lineup.
Fresh from Bacalar and Bacur, the Bentley bespoke train continues at pace. With the R type serving as an inspiration for the first iteration of the modern Continental GT back in 2003, it seems apt to continue the link with a homage that pulls hints and associations from JAS 949 with reverence. A twee attempt at a revival this is not. JAS 949 resides within Bentley’s curated 43-car Heritage collection and is stored at their carbon-neutral home in Crewe. With the brand since 2001, she still sees regular use – something to which I can attest, having been given the rather heady privilege of driving her at Bentley’s Toybox event. Manual, with her original 4.6-litre engine, to call it an event would be underselling one of the most enjoyable 15 minutes I’ve spent behind the wheel of a car.
Our modern example wears Old English White: a modern recreation of the heritage colour worn by the original. Bright chrome grilles continue the theme, as does the cricket ball interior leather piped in contrasting Beluga. Veneers are open pore, lacquered only three times, meaning a textural feel is achieved echoing the patina that 70 years of love and care have given the original. Again, recreating the feel, smells and ambience of the original car.
Being 2023, and everyone wanting everything, immediately, the modern car has comfort front seats, which means heating, cooling and massage. Touring specification includes weapons-grade driving assist functions in addition to night vision, head-up display and LED lighting. Bentley Dynamic ride keeps the occupants firmly in place, limiting roll and cushioning the occupants through the use of up to 1300Nm of anti-roll torque in cornering and by electronically decoupling the anti-roll bars when appropriate. An evocation it may be, but the technology is certainly worthy of a modern Bentley.
One can only imagine how the 153 bhp of the original would have felt in 1952. Mulliner bodied, of which there were 193 produced, it was capable of speeds in excess of 115 mph. I barely made it into fourth at 30 mph when chaperoned through the grounds of Castle Ashby. I remarked how she would be a perfect car for a London summer – a ‘They’ll never see me coming…’. With the key design lines of the rear haunch, roofline and the ‘power line’ to the front, the Continental GT Azure of today carries the bloodline proudly while also showcasing many examples of the quality that flows through their products.
Striking as it is, I am not sure they would miss me, after all.